Seabees

Naval construction units, known as Seabees, were active in the Vietnam conflict from the very beginning of the American presence there. From 1963 onwards Seabee were building camps for the Fifth Special Forces Group. During that period, they were also engaged in civic action programs, building airstrips, bridges, dams, roads, housing, and schools. Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, each staffed with 24 officers and 738 enlisted men, began arriving at Da Nang in May 1965 as part of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment. The 3rd Naval Construction Brigade followed in 1966 and the 32nd Naval Construction Regiment arrived in August 1967. The Seabees were based at Da Nang, Chu Lai, Hue-Phu Bai, Dong Tam, and Quang Tri. By 1968, Seabees totalled more than 10,000 men and by early1970, Seabee Teams departed from South Vietnam without relief as part of the United States troop withdrawals. On 18 April 1972, the last Seabee Team site located in Ham Tan, Binh Tuy Province, was closed.

While they were primarily builders and instructors, Seabee Team members were sometimes directly involved in battle. Perhaps the most famous such battle occurred in June 1965 at Dong Xoai, 55 miles northeast of Saigon. When Viet Cong troops overran a Special Forces Camp containing 400 South Vietnamese and allied Asian troops, 11 men of a U.S. Army Special Forces team and nine men of Seabee Team 1104, seven of the Seabees were wounded and two killed. One of the dead was Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields, USN, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in carrying a critically wounded man to safety and in destroying a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement at the cost of his life. Not only was Marvin Shields the first Seabee to win the nation's highest award, but he was also the first Navy man to be so decorated for action in Vietnam.

In a war where winning the hearts of the people was an important part of the total effort, Seabee construction skills and medical assistance proved powerful weapons in the Vietnam "civic action" war. They supported the Marines at Chu Lai and Khe Sanh, reopened the railroad line between Hue and Danang, struggled with the logistics problems of the Mekong Delta, constructed a new naval base on a sand pad floating on paddy mud, and built staggering quantities of warehouses, aircraft support facilities, roads, and bridges. But they also hauled and dumped numerous tons of rock and paving on roads that provided access to farms and markets, supplied fresh water to countless numbers of Vietnamese through hundreds of Seabee-dug wells, provided medical treatment to thousands of villagers, and opened up new opportunities and hope for generations to come through Seabee-built schools, hospitals, utilities systems, roads and other community facilities. Seabees also worked with, and taught construction skills to the Vietnamese people, helping them to help themselves and proving that the Seabees really are "builders for peace."

Đông Hà was the Quang Tri province capital and the northernmost town in South Vietnam. It was situated at the crossroads of National Highway 1A and route 9 and was overrun on March 31, 1972, during the initial assaults of the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive.

"
Camp Barnes" was the Seabee camp inside Đông Hà US Marine Combat Base which provided surveillance of troops movements across the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The camp was named after  Senior Chief Donald J. Barnes, who was MCB-11’s first casualty. In 1967 the based was shelled daily with a direct hit to Dong Ha main ammo dump in September 67.

 

"The oldMCB 7 Camp Barnes sign was at the camp's entrance and when we got there, we made it into anMCB 62 sign.  The lone seabee on top was removed and theMCB 62 round insignia was put up and the numbers 62 were put up just below where the 7 was."

Camp Barnes in 1969-70

Here's what I know of Camp Barnes at Dong Ha.  It was a small portion, as you know, of a large Marine Combat Base mostly 1st Marine Division.  It was on a major road called Route 9.  Route 9  is parallel to the DMZ and went on in to Laos.  Also, Route 1, which was the north/south highway for Vietnam came through Dong Ha too.  The famous base at Khe Sanh was on Route 9.  

4--Camp Carroll FSB near Dong Ha, Oct 69.jpg

30--Seabee Frank Caltaldo Camp Carroll FSB 10-69.jpg


 
1969 Bridge 9-12 near DMZ Seabee Holmes with Rock Monkey.jpg

Bridge 9-12, 
near DMZ
Holmes with rock monkey


 
25--On Rt. 1, Dong Ha, May 60.jpg

Route 1

 Near Dong Ha May 69


Surveying at
camp Carroll
Oct 69

Some other combat bases on it were Cam Lo, Vandergriff, The Rockpile, Camp Carroll, and others.  Vandergriff and Carroll were Fire Support Bases (FSB) with some big guns.  The Khe Gio Bridge (we called it Bridge 9-12) was on Route 9 too.  It was overrun in 1970.   Except for Khe Sanh, I was at all of these places .  Seabee battalions rotated to Camp Barnes from home ports in the U.S. my home port was Gulfport, Mississippi.  It is still there.  Seabee battalions did two 8 month tours to Vietnam unlike the 12-13 months for Marines and Army.   An entire battalion would go to Vietnam so MCB 62's headquarters would be at Camp Barnes too.   There were a few Seabee battalions in Vietnam at one time.  Another camp was Camp Haskins in Da Nang.  That was my home base when I was working out of Ha Thanh.  Our Battalion commander was Captain John Paul Jones.  A Navy Captain is same as an Army bird colonel. I was in H Company which were mostly land surveyors, draftsman and folks who do typical engineering work.  

16---July 69 Dong Ha combat base; Seabee Holmes, 81 mm team.jpg

2--1969 Seabee 81 mm mortar team.  Holmes on left, Dong Ha.jpg

 H Company also had the 81mm mortar squad and there was about
8 of us on the squad.  

We provided mortar fire for the Marines which is kind of hard to believe.  

The other companies had their on specialties such as utilities (electrical, plumbing etc), builders who contracted buildings, Steel workers who built bridges, and a company of heavy equipment operators and mechanics.  The Seabees organization is structured much like the Marines except for our rank.  We had battalions, companies, platoons, squads etc.  Not at all like the Navy.

6-69 Bronco FAC, Dong Ha,lots of firepower.jpg
Bronco 06/69 Dong Ha airfield

Dong Ha had an airfield that had smaller planes and not jets that I remember.
 A lot of FACs were there I guess because of the need for them along the DMZ area to keep an eye out for the NVA.  We saw a lot of NVA,  because of being close to
North Vietnam and not as much VC.  
The Seabees at
Camp Barnes were pretty much self efficient.  We had a famous mess hall that all the services liked eating at.  Navy cooks are noted for their good cooking.  Dong Ha Combat Base had a bread bakery that made bread for the entire base.  

1969 Dong Ha Combat Base Holmes burning shitters.jpg

"Dick on Shit burning duty"
 Dong Ha


We all lived in "hootchies" which were plywood with a tin roof and sand bags up to the screen windows.  Each hootch had I guess about 12 men with two sharing a small area with partitions.

Between the beds, was a trap door in the floor that lead to a ditch that lead to an underground bunker.  Went into it many times when in-coming rockets would come in.  

We had toilets outside that were called shitters and big shower houses.  

 

Our battalion had about 750 men with a lot of them out on different details and not staying at Camp Barnes.  
I spent most of my time out on Route 9 living with the Marines and Army.  We were paving Route 9 and Route 1 with asphalt and building bridges.  I did the soil and asphalt testing and some surveying.  We had our own rock crusher and asphalt plant.  We set a Seabee record for miles of asphalt laid down in one day.  I think it was 5 miles.  We worked from sun up to sun down most days with a half of day off on Sunday.  When we fired mortars at night they would let us sleep in but it was too hot most of the time to sleep.  Sunday afternoons were nice and we would grill out sometimes when we could find some steaks and beer.  Beer was either free or 10 cents.  
Camp Barnes had a small ice plant that used a brine solution, but ice was still a luxury.  Officers had air conditioned quarters plus the medical hut was air conditioned along with the MARS station hut.  The MARS boys would patch me by short wave radio to a person in the U.S. who did it as a hobby.  He would then get my parents on the phone and I could talk to them.  There were 12 hours between us.  Only problem was you had to say "over" when you were through talking so the other person on the end of line could know to talk and my mother could never get the hang of that.  I did this about once a month so it was not often.


At beer party, Dong Ha, Oct. 69.jpg
At beer party, Dong Ha, Oct. 69

 

Barry Condon and me, Dong Ha, July 69.jpg
Barry Condon and me

That's pretty much it for what I remember about Dong Ha and the area.

Petty Officer Third Class Richard Holmes by Regimental Sign in Dong Ha
in front of  what we called the surveyors shack and soils lab.

All information and display items are courtesy of

Petty Officer Third Class Richard Holmes
Third Naval Construction Brigade,  
32nd Naval Construction Regiment,
Mobile Construction Battalion 62.

Visit the 32nd Naval Construction Regiment 2011 display

Visit the Minute men website

 

 

Go to the Green Beret website

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 the Special Forces and Special Operations Associations  
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